August 9th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

Thoughts on recent performance events, big and small, on the Hill:

1) The Capitol Hill Block Party.

From all accounts it was a smashing success. Some 10,000 people attended each of the event’s three days. Except for one no-show due to illness, all the big advertised bands satisfied their respective throngs. Seattle finally has a second summer attraction with top big-name musical acts. (I personally don’t consider an outdoor ampitheater in the middle of eastern Washington to be “in Seattle.”)

But as the Block Party becomes a bigger, bolder, louder venture, it can’t help but lose some of its early funky charm, and a piece of its original raison d’etre.

Once a festival starts to seriously woo major-label acts, it has to start charging real money at the gates. It’s not just to pay the bands’ management, but also for the security, the sound system, the fences around the beer gardens, and assorted other ratcheted-up expenses.

That, by necessity, makes the whole thing a more exclusive, less inclusive endeavor.

The street fair booths that used to be free get put behind the admission gates. The merchants, political causes, and community groups operating these booths only end up reaching those who both can and want to pay $23 and up to get in.

I’m not suggesting the Block Party shut down or scale back to its earlier, small-time self.

I’m suggesting an additional event, perhaps on another summer weekend. It would be what the Block Party used to be—free to all, but intended for the people of the Hill. An all-encompassing, cross-cultural celebration of the neighborhood’s many different “tribes” and subcultures. An event starring not just rock and pop and hiphop, but a full range of performance types. An event all about cross-pollenization, exchanges of influence, and cultural learning.

It wouldn’t be a “Block Party Lite,” but something else, something wonderful in its own way.

2) Naked Girls Reading: “How To” Night.

A couple of years ago, a friend told me about a strip club in Los Angeles called “Crazy Girls.” I told him I would rather pay to see sane girls.

Now I have. And it’s beautiful.

“Naked Girls Reading” is a franchise operation, originally based in Chicago. But it’s a perfect concept for Seattle. It’s tastefully “naughty” but not in any way salacious. It’s not too heavy. It’s entertaining. It’s edifying. It could even be billed as providing “empowerment” to its cast.

The four readers last Sunday night, plus the dressed female MC (costumed as a naughty librarian), all came from the neo-burlesque subculture. But this concept is nearly the exact opposite of striptease dancing. There’s no stripping, no teasing, and no dancing. The readers enter from behind a stage curtain, already clad in just shoes and the occasional scarf. They sit at a couch. They take turns reading aloud. When each reader has performed three brief selections, the evening is done.

Each performance has a theme. Last Sunday, it was “How To.” The readers mostly chose types of texts that are seldom if ever read aloud in public. Given Seattle’s techie reputation, it’s only appropriate that we rechristen instructional text as an art form.

Selections ranged from explosive-making (from the ’70s cult classic The Anarchist Cookbook), to plate joining in woodwork, to home-brewing kombucha tea, to deboning a chicken (from The Joy of Cooking), to the famous Tom Robbins essay “How to Make Love Stay.” The women performed these selections with great humor, great voices, and great sitting posture.

Despite what you may hear from the Chicken Littles of the book and periodical industries, The Word isn’t going away any time soon, any more than The Body. Both obsessions retain their eternal power to attract, no matter what.

“Naked Girls Reading” performances are held the first Sunday of each month in the Odd Fellows Building, 10th and East Pine. Details and ticket info are at nakedgirlsreading.com/seattle. The promoters also promise a “Naked Boys Reading” evening at a yet-unset date. (The participles won’t be all that’s dangling.)

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